Thursday, January 23, 2014

Vandals destroying Birmingham Park.

Land, buildings damaged in parties.

by Jonathan Copsey / The Milton Herald

Vandals entering Birmingham Park have pried planks off this barn to make bonfires. The barn is at least 40 years old. Milton hopes to crack down on people breaking into the park at night.

January 14, 2014

MILTON, Ga. – Birmingham Park, in north Milton, is more than 200 acres of pristine woodland, one of the few remaining large areas of land in the metro area that is largely untouched by development. Horse and bicycle enthusiasts frequently can be seen riding the trails.

"It's beautiful land," said Milton Parks and Recreation Director Jim Cregge. "Lots of people make use of it."

Unfortunately for Cregge, some of those who make use of the park are also destroying it.

In recent years, vandals – most likely teens, Cregge said – are coming at night to have parties where they tear up the ground with their vehicles performing "doughnuts," leave trash around and tear apart the old wooden buildings that are on the land to use for kindling in bonfires.

"The barn is mostly gone," Cregge said. "It's part of the land, and we'd like to keep it."

The park is a dawn-to-dusk park, only open during the day. Residents are not allowed in at night.

The city has few options to control the nuisances. Signs that were erected to discourage vehicles driving on the trails were callously driven over.

"This is right-out vandalism," said Roddy Motes, with the Milton Parks Department. "They are taking vehicles and destroying fields."

Beyond general vandalism, the city has a more pressing concern. The park has many areas that are rocky, uneven and can be difficult – even dangerous – to navigate with a vehicle. But that isn't stopping those who don't know any better.

"People are driving vehicles to areas where they can get stuck and where it's difficult to get a wrecker in," said Motes. "Nobody wants to go on a rescue mission where it's difficult to get to the vehicle."

Motes said that several times, emergency crews have had to go out to rescue a lost or stranded motorist. The city has had to rescue at least four motorists, but Cregge admits there are likely many more that were not reported.

Cregge said his nightmare is someone getting hurt or trapped if their vehicle gets stranded. Given the size of the park, there is a very real chance that, if someone got lost, no one would know where they are if they are trapped.

"Someone could get killed out there," he said.

So far, no one has been reported hurt, but Cregge said it is just a matter of time.

If the problems continue, Cregge and Motes said they are considering stronger methods of containing action, including banning all vehicles in the park.

"We don't want to do that," Cregge said. "Hooves, feet, bicycles. They are all great. There are a lot of great people who respect it and use it for what it is. You can still enjoy the park for its natural beauty. But it's a growing problem of some people damaging the land, trashing it up and putting themselves increasingly at risk.

"We may be forced to take action, and the people who use the park properly will come out losing," he said.

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